|Publication number||US7429993 B2|
|Application number||US 10/943,585|
|Publication date||30 Sep 2008|
|Filing date||17 Sep 2004|
|Priority date||17 Sep 2004|
|Also published as||US20060061597|
|Publication number||10943585, 943585, US 7429993 B2, US 7429993B2, US-B2-7429993, US7429993 B2, US7429993B2|
|Original Assignee||Microsoft Corporation|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (16), Referenced by (65), Classifications (8), Legal Events (4)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
The present invention generally pertains to presenting visual content generated by computer software applications, and more specifically, to a method and system for presenting visual content in an on-screen window so that underlying content is still visible and capable of being accessed by a user.
Among the many advantages afforded by the ever-improving price performance of computers, perhaps two of the most beneficial are the ability to run more than one application program at one time and the increased user friendliness provided by graphical user interface operating systems, such as Microsoft Corporation's WINDOWS™ operating systems. Before the advent of multi-tasking graphical user interface operating systems, computers could only execute one task at a time. A user might want to work in a spreadsheet while accessing e-mail and/or perform word processing, but could only perform one of those functions at a time. However, using a multi-tasking graphical user interface operating system, a user can read or copy text from an e-mail message displayed in one window into a word processing application presented in another window, while running other applications in other windows, so that multiple tasks are being executed at one time by the computer. Allowing users to execute more than one application at a time, and to move information between those applications, has greatly improved the efficiency with which users can complete their work.
In addition, because programs are more user friendly, users can now learn new applications and learn new functions in those applications more easily than ever before. On-line error detection can catch inadvertent mistakes, such as a user attempting to close a changed document without saving it, and can then ask the user to confirm the user's choice. Similarly, automatically generated messages, such as calendaring reminders or notifications of e-mails being received, are presented to the user in on-screen windows to help keep a user aware of calendar events and of newly available information. Yet, the plethora of on-screen information may present problems. At times there may be just too many windows open on the display screen for the user to work with effectively, at least in the space permitted on the user's display.
The problem of not having enough room on the screen for all desired windows may also be complicated when a user accesses on-line help. In
Other automated features of the computing system also might hamper the user's ability to work.
It would be highly desirable for users to be able to see all of the contents of a window without necessarily having to make it an active window. Specifically, it would be desirable to be able to see all of the content of a window without the need to make that window active so that it partially or largely covers another window, which the user wants to see or in which the user want to be able to work. Further, it would be desirable for a new window to appear on the screen without the user immediately losing the ability to enter input into what had just been the active window before the new window appeared. In short, it would be highly desirable to be able to view more information on a computer display without sacrificing the ability to view and access information or interact with a window that is currently displayed.
A major advantage of the present invention is that it provides a way to present additional information on a display without covering other visual content or even momentarily preventing a user from engaging other visual content presented on the display (i.e., for input or control thereof). The additional content, which may be selected from various types of available additional content, is presented on a display so that the content or any background or border around the content is at least partially visually transparent as well as functionally transparent. Thus, when this additional visual content is presented on the display, a user can at least partially see through the additional content to the content that already was presented on the display, even when the additional content is positioned on top of the content that was already presented on the display. Moreover, the user can interact with the content that underlies the additional content. Thus, if a user was in the middle of an operation, or just in the midst of expressing a thought, the user's input will be not lost by the appearance of this new window on the display. Information that is available in the new content can then be readily seen and entered in another application, because the new content is always visible, but does not hinder the user providing input or otherwise interacting with other content on the display.
One aspect of the present invention is thus directed to a method for unobtrusively presenting selected visual content in a display that is coupled to a computing system on which other visual content also is displayed. According to the method, the selected visual content is presented in a region of the display. The selected visual content is rendered as to enable a user to direct input to other visual content presented within the region of the selected visual content and enabling the computing system to respond to the input directed to the other visual content as though the selected visual content were not being presented on the display.
The selected visual content optionally is designated by either user input or by a software program that is executed on the computer system. Also, the selected visual content may include one or more of text, graphics, a blank area, an image, and a video.
According to the method, the selected visual content is presented in an unobtrusive overlay window generated by the operating system that is executed by and controlling the computing system. Presentation of the unobtrusive overlay window is controlled by directing the operating system to set attributes of the unobtrusive overlay window, to achieve the characteristics described above.
Further according to the method, the selected visual content optionally is protected from being masked by the other visual content in the region of the display. The selected visual content is protected from being masked by the other visual content by directing the operating system to apply an attribute that maintains the overlay window as a topmost window so that the other visual content is not presented over the selected visual content when the user directs input to the other visual content.
Also further according to the method, the selected visual content optionally is rendered so that the selected visual content is at least partially visibly transparent, thereby enabling the user to view the other visual content through the selected visual content. The selected visual content is rendered as partially visually transparent by changing at least one of an alpha value and a color key value in the attributes used to present the overlay window on the display. The color key value optionally is set such that a background color of the overlay window is not displayed.
According to the method, adjustment of at least one of the alpha value and the color key value optionally is enabled to vary a transparency of the overlay window. The selected visual content is rendered as at least one of functionally and visually transparent by changing at least one of a layer attribute and a transparency attribute of the overlay window.
In addition, at least one of a plurality of attributes of the overlay window may not be displayed. The attribute of the overlay window not displayed may include, for example, a title bar, a system menu, a resizable border, a maximize button, and a minimize button.
If desired, the unobtrusive overlay window is not included in a list of windows that are currently available on the display. For example, the list of windows currently available on the display may include a taskbar including taskbar buttons for windows currently available on the display other than the selected content.
The foregoing aspects and many of the attendant advantages of this invention will become more readily appreciated as the same becomes better understood by reference to the following detailed description, when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
Unobtrusive Overlay Window Used to Facilitate Access to On-Line Help
Unobtrusive overlay window 240 is both at least partially transparent, and functionally transparent to facilitate unimpeded user access to other content on display 200 a. As shown in the
Furthermore, by accessing on-line help presented using unobtrusive overlay window 240, the user not only can see the content presented in the underlying spreadsheet window on display 200 a (
Continuing to refer to
Facilitating Unobtrusive Pop-Up Windows
Unobtrusive overlay windows are useful not only for accessing on-line help as shown in
As is known to persons familiar with reminders and other similar pop-up windows, when conventional pop-up windows are displayed, they appear in the foreground. As a result, these pop-up windows are, at a minimum, visually obtrusive. Moreover, removing or concealing the window presents an interruption to the user, which may interrupt the user's train of thought. Furthermore, some pop-up windows automatically become the active window (i.e., the pop-up window “has the focus”). As a result, the pop-up window not only visually obscures any windows that it overlies, but also functionally blocks interaction with such windows. The active window receives, or intercepts, any user input. Thus, if the user were typing a document, and was in the middle of a thought and typing a sentence expressing that thought, the display of the pop-up window would cause the pop-up window to become the active window instead of the word processing application window. Thus, whatever the user was typing from the instant that the pop-up window appeared is intercepted by the pop-up windows and not entered into the word processing document. This problem is particularly troublesome to skilled typists who do not look at the screen when typing text, because such a user will likely not notice the appearance of the pop-up window, and as a result, a number of words or even several lines of text that were intended to be entered into the document will instead be lost.
In addition, if the user were about to make a selection in a window when a pop-up window appeared in the foreground over what previously was the foreground window, many nuisances may result. For example, if the pop-up window appeared directly over the position the user was about to select, the user's selection would apply to the pop-up window, possibly invoking an undesired action. Alternatively, if the pop-up window appeared in the foreground but not directly over the position the user was about to select, the user's selection would once again bring to the foreground what previously was the foreground window. Unfortunately, however, the user may have to repeat the input to make his or her selection, because the original action may result only in the window being restored to the foreground. Furthermore, if the user then wishes to close or otherwise engage the pop-up window, the user will have to locate the pop-up window by minimizing other windows or using the taskbar, then take the appropriate action. In sum, spontaneous appearance of conventional pop-up windows may change the foreground hierarchy of windows currently displayed, and necessitate the user performing a number of immediate steps to respond to the pop-up window and restore the display to the state that preceded the appearance of the pop-up window.
By contrast, an unobtrusive pop-up window 320 neither visually obscures the current active window nor functionally prevents the user's interaction with the current active window, which may underlie unobtrusive pop-up window 320. As shown in
Because of the unobtrusiveness of window 320, beyond calendar reminders, a schedule for the day might be presented on the display. Because the schedule would not visually or functionally interfere with the user in working with other content on the display, the schedule could be left displayed all day without inconvenience.
Unobtrusive Overlay Windows Set by User to Access Information
Use of unobtrusive overlay windows is not limited to help screens 240 (
However, instead of having to shift the focus between such overlapping windows through changing the active window, by making window 420 an unobtrusive overlay window, the user can view the content displayed in unobtrusive overlay window 420 to refer to the text of e-mail 422 without having to jump back and forth between windows 410 and 420, or attempting to resize or rescale one or both of the windows.
In a taskbar 430, a taskbar button 434 is rendered with a dotted outline 436 adjacent a highlighted taskbar button 432 that represents active word processing window 410. The dotted outline used for taskbar button 434 indicates that it represents unobtrusive overlay window 420 rather than a conventional window. As described above in connection with
This problem is readily addressed using the present invention. As shown in
Other embodiments of the present invention enable various aspects of unobtrusive overlay window 550 to be further manipulated to suit various objectives. As shown in
Logical Steps for Presenting Unobtrusive Overlay Windows
Flow diagram 600 begins at a step 602. At a decision step 604, it is determined if a pre-existing window has been designated by a user or program to be made unobtrusive. If it is determined that a window has not been designated to be made unobtrusive, flow diagram 600 loops to decision step 604 to continue monitoring for a window to be so designated. Thus, the obtrusive-rendering utility exemplified by flow diagram 600 remains available to a user until such point it is selected by a user. For example, a user might render a currently-selected window as unobtrusive from a menu invoked with a secondary pointing device or with a keystroke combination, such as CTRL-SHFT-SPACE.
Once it is determined at decision step 604 that a window is to be made unobtrusive, flow diagram 600 proceeds to step 606. At steps 606-610, in one embodiment of the present invention suitable for use with a Microsoft Corporation WINDOWS™ operating system, program calls are made to an operating system application program interface (API) to cause the window to be presented unobtrusively. Other embodiments of the present invention would be suitably configured to direct modules in other operating systems, display manager programs, or application programs, to render a window unobtrusively. It will be appreciated that steps 606-610 may be executed in an order different than depicted in flow diagram 600. Further, numerous variations on the embodiment described in flow diagram 600 may be employed. To name one example, unobtrusive windows may or may not be represented with taskbar buttons in the taskbar, and any number of visual attributes may be assigned to the unobtrusive windows.
At step 606, the window style is set as topmost so that the window designated as unobtrusive remains on top of other windows. Conventionally, as successive windows are opened at a common region on a display, the windows are stacked in successive layers, with the last window opened normally appearing on the top. When a window is selected to have the focus, that window is normally shifted to the top of the stack. Nonetheless, the embodiment of the present invention described in flow diagram 600 always maintains an unobtrusive overlay window on top of the stack. Thus, even if another window is “clicked into” to have the focus, as the user might click into the drawing application of
BOOL result = ::SetWindowPos(targetWindow_, (1) HWND_TOPMOST, 0, 0, 0, 0, SWP_NOMOVE | SWP_NOSIZE);
The “HWND_TOPMOST” instruction causes the window to remain on top. Alternatively, if desired, step 606 may be omitted if it is not desired that the window always be made topmost.
At step 608, the window style for the unobtrusive overlay window is set as inactive, so that the unobtrusive overlay window cannot be made active by user input. At step 610, the window transparency is set so that the unobtrusive overlay window does not cover or occlude other windows. Both directives can be made in a single API call which, in the example of line (2), below, is a call to the SetWindowLong API:
LONG result = ::SetWindowLong(targetWindow_, (2) GWL_EXSTYLE, WS_EX_LAYERED | WS_EX_TRANSPARENT | WS_EX_NOACTIVATE );
In line (2) above, the “WS_EX_LAYERED” command enables the window to be made transparent or partially transparent, while the “WS_EX_TRANSPARENT” command, in conjunction with the WS_EX_LAYERED command, enables the unobtrusive overlay window to be clicked through, so that keyboard and mouse input are applicable to an underlying window and are not hindered by the presence of the unobtrusive overlay window. The “WS_EX_NOACTIVATE” command prevents the unobtrusive overlay window from being made active, for example, there is no taskbar button displayed in the taskbar for this window.
At step 610, the window transparency is set. The transparency level, or alpha value, is set to a desired level. Similarly, a selected color, or key color, can be made transparent so that it does not appear on the screen. Either or both directives can be made in a single API call which, in the example of line (3), below, is a call to the SetLayeredWindowAttributes API:
BOOL result = ::SetLayeredWindowAttributes (3) (targetWindow_, colorKey_, opacity_, LWA_COLORKEY | LWA_ALPHA);
It should be noted that, instead of instantaneously changing the transparency of a window, it may be desirable to have the window fade from its initial appearance to a desired transparency level. As will be appreciated by those ordinarily skilled in the art, such a fade could be accomplished by a series of attribute changes, each of which changes the transparency of the window incrementally from its initial state to its desired state. In addition, it should be appreciated that it may be desired for the window to be functionally transparent, such that the window will not receive input, but remain opaque to mask content beneath it. For example, a gaming application may invite a user to pick an unseen option. An unobtrusive, opaque window thus could be used to visually mask choices in another window.
At a decision step 612, it is determined if the user wants to change any of the attributes of the unobtrusive overlay window. If not, flow diagram 600 ends at a step 616. On the other hand, if it is determined at step 612 that the user desires to change attributes, at a step 614, a user may change the window transparency to make the unobtrusive overlay window more or less transparent. For example, by pressing CTRL-SHFT-<, the window may be made more transparent, and by pressing CTRL-SHFT->, the window may be made less transparent. (Clearly, any other appropriate keystroke or combination of keystrokes may be designated for making these control inputs, or a setup window might be invoked to control these attributes.) Alternatively, a user may selectively activate another keystroke combination to change a color key preference, such as in the drawing application example of
Once the user has changed transparency and color key attributes as desired (if at all), flow diagram 600 loops to decision step 612 to determine if the user wants to make further changes. When the changes are satisfactory to the user, flow diagram 600 ends at step 616. It will be appreciated that, programmatically, control of these attributes need not be manifested as a decision step/loop. User controls may be a separate routine that may be invoked at any time from a menu, with a keystroke combination, or in another manner.
Flow diagram 700 illustrates an embodiment of the invention used by an application that generates windows predetermined to be unobtrusive, such as calendar reminders and help screens. Flow diagram 700 begins at step 702. At step 704, an unobtrusive window is generated. It is possible for the attributes to be set in a single API call so that the window is topmost, cannot be activated, and visually and functionally transparent in the example of line (4):
HWND hWnd =
WS_EX_TRANSPARENT | WS_EX_NOACTIVATE |
WS_EX_TOPMOST, “ReminderWindow”, “Reminder”,
WS_VISIBLE | WS_POPUP, 0, 0, 100, 100, NULL, NULL,
The example of line (4) also sets additional attributes in the same call of CreateWindowEx, such as the WS_POPUP attribute that causes no title bar and border to be displayed for the window.
At a decision step 706, it is determined if the user wants to change any of the attributes of the unobtrusive overlay window, as previously described in connection with step 612 (
Exemplary Computing System for Implementing the Present Invention
With reference to
A number of program modules may be stored on the hard disk, magnetic disk 829, optical disk 831, ROM 824, or RAM 825, including an operating system 835, one or more application programs 836, other program modules 837, and program data 838. A user may enter commands and information in PC 820 and provide control input through input devices, such as a keyboard 840 and a pointing device 842. Pointing device 842 may include a mouse, stylus, wireless remote control, or other pointer. Other input devices (not shown) may include a microphone, joystick, haptic joystick, yoke, foot pedals, game pad, satellite dish, scanner, camera, or the like. These and other input/output (I/O) devices are often connected to processing unit 21 through an I/O interface 846 that is coupled to the system bus 823. The term I/O interface is intended to encompass each interface specifically used for a serial port, a parallel port, a game port, a keyboard port, and/or a universal serial bus (USB). A display 847 can be connected to system bus 823 via an appropriate interface, such as a video graphics adapter 848. It will be appreciated that PCs are often coupled to other peripheral output devices (not shown), such as speakers (through a sound card or other audio interface—not shown) and printers.
The present invention may be practiced on a single machine, although PC 820 can also operate in a networked environment using logical connections to one or more remote computers, such as a remote computer 849. Remote computer 849 may be another PC, a server (which is typically generally configured much like PC 820), a router, a network PC, a peer device, or a satellite or other common network node, and typically includes many or all of the elements described above in connection with PC 820, although only an external memory storage device 850 has been illustrated in
When used in a LAN networking environment, PC 820 is connected to LAN 851 through a network interface or adapter 853. When used in a WAN networking environment, PC 820 typically includes a modem 854, or other means such as a cable modem, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) interface, or an Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) interface for establishing communications over WAN 852, such as the Internet. Modem 854, which may be internal or external, is connected to the system bus 823 or coupled to the bus via I/O device interface 846, i.e., through a serial port. In a networked environment, program modules, or portions thereof, used by PC 820 may be stored in the remote memory storage device. It will be appreciated that the network connections shown are exemplary and other means of establishing a communications link between the computers may be used, such as wireless communication and wide band network links.
Although the present invention has been described in connection with the preferred form of practicing it and modifications thereto, those of ordinary skill in the art will understand that many other modifications can be made to the present invention within the scope of the claims that follow. Accordingly, it is not intended that the scope of the invention in any way be limited by the above description, but instead be determined entirely by reference to the claims that follow.
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|12 Oct 2004||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: MICROSOFT CORPORATION, WASHINGTON
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:HUI, ALEX;REEL/FRAME:015885/0263
Effective date: 20040917
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